News: Ceremonial Platoon honors sacrifices of Marines, families
Story by Michael DiCicco
QUANTICO, Va. - It was a warm, sunny afternoon as the funeral detail of Quantico’s Ceremonial Platoon waited for the hearse to arrive at Quantico National Cemetery on Sept. 13. Weather is a factor in a job that requires standing at attention outdoors for long periods.
It was the group’s second funeral of the day, and a few members had participated in a color guard that morning.
The funeral caravan pulled in, and family members looked on somberly as six of the Marines pulled the casket from the hearse and carried it, with slow, synchronized steps, to the nearby shelter.
The Marine Corps funeral ceremony is about honoring the service and passing of fellow Marines, but it is especially about their families, said Staff Sgt. Evans Janvier, Ceremonial Platoon’s staff noncommissioned officer in charge. “It’s kind of a tribute to show them what the Marine Corps is really about. We mean what we say: Semper fidelis, always faithful. We’re going to be faithful to the end.”
“There’s definitely pressure — just the fact that the family’s right there, watching you lay their loved one to rest,” said Cpl. William Foster, one of the platoon’s 16 members. “There’s also the pressure of wanting to do everything right because we want to honor our Marine brothers and sisters.”
Whenever it can be found online, the Marines read the obituary for the person they’re about to lay to rest before the funeral, a policy Janvier instituted when he took over almost a year ago.
“This is not just another funeral, this is an individual,” he said. “This is the family that’s left behind.”
On the afternoon of the 13th, though, all they knew was a name and rank and the faces of the family members in attendance.
The motions of the ceremony are slow, graceful and solemn.
“It’s not like Marine Corps drill, which is snap and pop,” said Cpl. Cody Kent, platoon member.
Marines of the platoon have distinct roles in the ritual, but those can change. The Marine who was supposed to present the flag to the next of kin at this funeral had a medal come loose from his uniform. He had to be switched to casket because the medal could have fallen off when he bent to hand the flag over. This changed the order of the rifle line, which has to run from tallest to shortest.
“You never know what could come up, so we try to be pretty interchangeable, with everybody knowing everybody’s job,” said Sgt. Matthew Brock, the detail commander.
After the casket was laid on the beir, four of the bearers joined the rifle line standing about 30 yards off. Foster and Lance Cpl. Oscar Turcios remained to fold the flag into a neat triangle while Brock stood at attention, watching them over the casket. With deliberate, practiced motions, Turcios folded the flag over on itself while Foster held the other end.
They raised the folded banner three times, chanting, “God, country, Corps,” and saluted. Then Foster set about caressing any wrinkles out of the flag and squeezing its edges, in a way that could look a bit peculiar to an outsider.
“We want to show how much respect we give the flag we’re about to hand them to show our respect for their family member and his or her service,” Janvier explained.
Foster held the flag over the casket, standing stock still, while the preacher delivered his homily. Women sniffled and wiped their eyes. A man and boy held their heads in their hands. Speaking of God’s compassion for their suffering, the preacher said, “He is a man of sorrow, acquainted with death.”
Ceremonial Platoon participates in these somber affairs an average of three or four times a week. Members said they have to keep some emotional distance and focus on their roles.
“We’re so zoned in on the ceremony and the way we’re going to present it,” said Cpl. Cody Kent. “It’s a hard time for the family, but we just do our best to do the best we can for them.”
“I’d say the most difficult part is probably presenting the flag to the next of kin,” Foster said. “I’ve definitely choked up a couple times. It’s not an easy job.”
Janvier said his Marines, all of whom are assigned to him for nine months on temporary additional duty, have to practice rigorously to make sure every move is performed correctly with no slip-ups. They do strength training to be able to carry the heaviest caskets and practice to make sure the rifle line’s volleys are synchronized.
“I tell the Marines, one day we’re going to be on the other side, and we want to make sure our family gets the best possible support they can,” he said.
After 15 minutes or so, the preacher wrapped up, the rifle line fired the three-volley salute and “Taps” was played.
The ceremony concluded with Foster standing before the woman designated as next of kin, not knowing whether she was the wife or mother of the deceased. He bent to hand her the flag, looked her in the eye as he saluted her and then turned and walked away.